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What You Need to Know About Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth tend to be an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” topic of dentistry in that while most people get them, few people ever talk about them. Many people don’t have a clear understanding of what wisdom teeth are or why most people end up having them removed.

Why Are They Called “Wisdom” Teeth?

Wisdom teeth,” also known as the third set of molars, their name was coined because these teeth generally erupt out of the gum line long after all of the other teeth, at an age which a person is considered much wiser than when those other teeth emerged. Typically, the first set of molars comes in at about age six, the second set at age 12, and that third “wisdom” set typically arrives between the ages of 17 and 25. Sometimes, the “wisdom” teeth arrived even later in adulthood.

Some people never develop any wisdom teeth. On rare occasions, some people end up with even more than four wisdom teeth! While the number of teeth does not indicate a person’s intelligence; people within this latter group are more likely to face additional dental work to correct any potential problems caused by that extra tooth, or teeth.      

Why Are Wisdom Teeth Usually Removed?

Much like the appendix, wisdom teeth are believed to have been rendered obsolete due to evolutionary factors. It is believed that our ancient ancestors needed that extra set of molars because of a diet consisting of much rougher food items that required more chewing power. Over the centuries, food choices and food preparation methods—such as cooking—have softened the consistency of our dietary intake, which has led to evolutionary change, such as a reduction in our jaw size.

The evolutionary reduction in jaw size is largely responsible for the need to remove wisdom teeth. While not everyone has to have their wisdom teeth removed—the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons estimates that 85 percent of all wisdom teeth eventually need to be removed. Removal is generally necessitated because they patient does not have enough room to emerge or develop normally. This causes them to grow at odd angles and affect the health of adjacent molars, gums, and/or jawbone. Known as “impacted” or “partially impacted” wisdom teeth, if left uncorrected, they can cause the following problems:

  • Partial emergence—The wisdom teeth may not fully emerge from the gum, which can make that area difficult to clean and increase the risk of developing a regional inflammatory gum disease called “pericoronitis.” Partially impacted wisdom teeth are also noticeably more prone to tooth decay due to the difficulty in keeping them clean.
  • Damage to other teeth—A wisdom tooth can damage the second molar by pushing against it, and that additional pressure can cause crowding on the other teeth, all of which increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. The overcrowding of teeth can also lead to the need for corrective orthodontic measures.
  • Cysts—Impacted wisdom teeth can cause cysts to form at the jawbone, which can subsequently lead to damage to the jawbone, teeth and nerves, and, in rare cases, lead to the formation of non-cancerous tumors.
  • Sinus Problems—Impacted wisdom teeth can put pressure on the sinus cavities, leading to sinus pressure, pain and congestion.

When to Talk to Your Dentist About Wisdom Teeth

Generally speaking, if you’re under the age of 25 your dentist will likely have a handle on the development of your wisdom teeth and be monitoring the wisdom teeth area via examination and x-rays during regular checkups. However if you are experiencing symptoms specific to the area behind your last molar, make sure you tell your dentist. Other signs that your wisdom teeth may be coming in or that they are impacted include:

  • red, swollen gums, especially near the molars
  • jaw pain
  • swelling around the jaw
  • difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • bad breath or unpleasant tastes in the mouth

As your molars come in, or as signs of impaction become apparent, you and your dentist can discuss an appropriate plan of action. Even without any noticeable pain or other symptoms, your dentist may advise you to consider removal sooner rather than later in order to prevent any increase in potential complications. Even if your wisdom teeth appear to be growing in without impaction, your dentist may recommend removal to ensure against problems that may arise as you age.

Island Tower Dentistry Can Handle Your Wisdom Teeth  

The dental-care experts at Island Tower Dentistry have extensive experience monitoring the condition of adult wisdom teeth and in their extraction as needed, whether to correct immediate problems or as a preventive measure. To learn more about what the Island Tower team can do for you, contact us today at 239-394-1004 to make an appointment!

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